President Jimmy Carter, our 39th president, has set a high bar for post-presidential accomplishments: He’s written more than 24 books, been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and continues to work to solve problems around the world. In recent years, he says he’s “become convinced that the most serious and unaddressed worldwide challenge is the deprivation and abuse of women and girls.” It’s a problem that he says is connected to the misinterpretation of selected religious texts and a general acceptance of violence and warfare. Join Diane for a conversation with President Jimmy Carter on his call to action for women and girls.
President Jimmy Carter
39th President of the United States, recipient of the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize, founder of the Carter Center and bestselling author.
Behind The Scenes Of President Carter’s Interview
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter joined Diane on March 26, 2014, to discuss why he believes bias against women is the world’s most serious unaddressed challenge.
Watch A Featured Clip
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter said Wednesday he was disappointed in the Affordable Care Act — both “the way it was done and the complexity it assumed.”
The 39th president told Diane that, “instead of taking a leadership role from the White House and saying ‘this is what we think is best,'” the program was crafted by congressional committees, which yielded “the most complex system.”
What he would have preferred: The expansion of Medicare to include Americans of all ages.
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Watch Diane’s full conversation with former President Jimmy Carter.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. President Jimmy Carter has seen firsthand many of the world's most intractable problems: poverty, violence, injustice, just to name a few. But all of these, he says, are linked with a deprivation and abuse of women and girls. In a new book, he describes why the status of women is so critical to the future of the world. His new book is titled, "A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence and Power."
MS. DIANE REHMAnd throughout the hour President Carter will be here with me in the studio. We'll be taking your calls, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow us on video. We are live-streaming this hour. Go to drshow.org and click on Live Video. And, President Carter, what a joy to see you again.
PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTERWell, it's good to be back with you and all of your listeners around the world.
REHMThank you. You know, you begin this book, "A Call to Action," by making a comparison between racial discrimination that you experienced growing up in the South and the discrimination you see against women and girls. How are they alike? How are they different?
CARTERWell, I grew up in a rural community in Georgia where we had one white family and 55 black families. And it was during the time of racial discrimination, which was pretty well ordained officially in the United States by the Supreme Court ruling and in Congress and so forth. It was separate and equal, but it was separate but not equal.
CARTERAnd I saw then that the discrimination against black people, African Americans, was not only condoned by almost everyone, but the religious groups that would come into our little church in Plains, Ga., the leaders would say, well, you can look at the scriptures, and they ordained that white people are superior.
CARTERAnd I think a lot of the white people in those days that didn't like the idea of persecuting black people enjoyed the privileges of getting better jobs and better education, and they were the ones that served on juries. They were the ones that voted. So we kind of enjoyed the privileges of superiority. So that was a limited part of a world, and it dealt with a relative small group of peoples. And now the discrimination against women and girls is worldwide.
CARTERAnd although a lot of people deplore that discrimination, we kind of sit back and say, well, we won't do much about it because it's nice to be a man. You know, I'm a leader of a church organization, or I'm a leader of a corporation, and I don't really have to pay my female employees equal pay for equal work. And I also can prevent women from being ascendant as they compete with me for church leadership. Those kinds of things still prevent corrective action that ought to be taken.
REHMSo what you're saying is that those who continue to discriminate against women, whether it's in the workplace, whether it's in marriage, whether it's in how to raise or teach girls, look to biblical text in the same way they did when they were considering racial matters.
CARTERThat's correct. I studied the Quran quite thoroughly when they were holding hostages of mine in Iran. I had scholars come into the Oval Office and give me fairly advanced instructions on the meaning of the Quran dealing with, you know, visitors and capture of hostages. But I also learned a lot, and I now have seen that the Quran is quite balanced and quite uniform in saying that men and women are created equally.
CARTERIn a Christian church -- I happen to be a Christian. I teach Bible lessons every Sunday that I'm home. If you read the words and actions of Jesus Christ, he not only never discriminated, but he also exalted women far beyond any status they had ever enjoyed before that, and even since then. But there are some verses in the 36,000 or so in the Holy Bible that you can extract in their isolation, and you can prove almost anything you want.
CARTERBecause St. Paul, who's a chief theologian, as you know, for the Christians, he wrote letters to individual tiny churches all through Asia Minor and so forth, and sometimes he addressed a problem in the church and he would say things that were discriminatory against women, depriving them of equal rights. But in generic terms, St. Paul always said that women were equal.
CARTERIn fact, one of the verses that I quote in the Book to the Galatians, says that there is no difference between men and women. There's no difference between slaves and masters. There is no difference between Jews and Gentiles in the eyes of God, that all people are equal. And in, I think, the 16th Chapter of Acts, he lists in the early church history the key heroes that have been so forceful as leaders, and about half of them are women. And he calls them by name, as matter of fact.
CARTERBut, you know, if you want to stay in a superior position within the church now, you can say -- take some of the other verses and say women ought to be subservient to their husbands and they ought to take an active role in church leadership.
REHMBut it's fascinating to me that you, as a former president, with all that you have seen in the world, all many the problems, you write this book saying that how women and girls are treated is our biggest problem.
CARTERIt is. Well, the Carter Center has had programs in 79 countries on Earth. A lot of them are the poorest countries, the most backward countries, but others are in the advanced world. And we've seen throughout the world, including the United States, as a matter of fact, gross abuse of women and girls that's unaddressed. And, of course, in some countries -- say Egypt, for instance -- 90 percent of the females now who are living in Egypt have had their genitals mutilated with a so-called circumcision of little girls.
CARTERAnd this is not ordained in the Quran. It's not imposed by any religious leaders. It's not even imposed by husbands in a family. It's a custom that mothers use because they were circumcised when they were little girls, and so they do the same thing to their daughters. And this is done even in a greater degree in other countries like Djibouti and Sudan and so forth. I need not name them all. And there are about a dozen or more countries in Africa where more than 50 percent of all the females have had their genitals mutilated.
CARTERAnd sometimes this goes to extreme. For instance, the cutters -- and I've met a number of the cutters, by the way, in our studies leading up to this book -- who use a razor blade or something like that to do this operation, they go to a much greater extreme by sewing up the orifice of a woman's genitals so she can only urinate or menstruate.
CARTERAnd then when they get married, they go in with the same razor blade, and they cut the orifice open so she can have sex with her husband or even bear children. So it's a horrendous abuse of women and girls that takes place in those countries. But there are other equally abusive things that are done in Europe and the United States that are still not being addressed.
REHMYou have focused this book, President Carter, on women. However, throughout the world, we are seeing discrimination against homosexuality as well. How does that fit into your thinking?
CARTERWell, I don't cover this in the book because I wanted the book to be singularly focused on women and girls. But obviously any discrimination against a human being is an abuse of international human rights. I was in the Navy. In fact, I was on a ship when the United Nations were founded. And I kept up with that very closely. And I was also there when Eleanor Roosevelt and others wrote the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
CARTERThere are 30 paragraphs in that very brief and wonderful document. And all the nations adopted it with a few abstentions because, like, South Africa didn't want to say that blacks were equal, and Russians didn't want to say that Jews could immigrate and so forth, but with very few exceptions. And I wrote an op-ed piece in The New York Times a few months ago, and I pointed out that, at the present time, the United States is violating 10 of those 30 little brief paragraphs. So we can't just look at other people around the world. We have to correct our own problems first and then deal with others.
REHMGive me an example of how the U.S. is violating those human rights issues.
CARTERWell, let's just take two of the most revered institutions in our country. First of all, I would say our higher education system. The university system is one of the most admired not only here but around the world. Sexual abuse on campuses is rampant. And about one out of four girls who enters college is sexually abused before she graduates. And the presidents of colleges and universities and the deans of Harvard and Yale and Emery University, where I teach, the University of Georgia and others, are very reluctant to have it reported that there is sexual abuse on their own campus.
CARTERIt's a reflection on themselves, as leaders. It's a reflection on their university. So instead of encouraging girls to report rapes, they counsel with the girl, well, let's just counsel with you, and we'll give you psychological help if you need it. We'll try to deal with the boy who perpetrated this crime. But let's don't make a legal event out of it because it'll be in all the newspapers. Your reputation will be besmirched.
CARTERYou know, your parents will find out that you got too much drink one night and were raped. Let's just cover it up. And that exists, all over. And as a matter of fact, only 4 percent of sexual abuses on United States campuses are reported, whereas, in civilian life, about six times as many are reported. So a rapist knows he can get away with it as a student, so he continues to be a serial rapist.
REHMFormer President Jimmy Carter, his new book is titled, "A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence and Power." Short break. We'll be right back.
REHMWelcome back. If you've just joined us, I have the pleasure of having the company of former President Jimmy Carter. He's here in the studio as we talk about his brand new book. It's titled "A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence and Power." And we've been talking about the many ways in which he believes that the treatment of women and girls has become the greatest problem we face.
REHMAnd of course you can join us. Give us a call, 800-433-8850. You should know we are also video streaming this hour, so you can see the program as well as hear it. Financial inequality is something we haven't talked about yet -- very important.
CARTERIt is. The United States is very near the bottom of countries in equal treatment of women. I think we rank about 70, as a matter of fact, in equal pay for women doing equal work. And in the United States, women receive about 23 percent less than men for exactly the same hours and the same assignments of a laborer. And in the Fortune 500, for instance, only about two dozen of those 500 have women CEOs. And if they do get to be the leader of a major corporation, they receive about 42 percent less pay than men. And we just looked the other way and said, well, that's the way things are.
REHMHow are we going to get this to change?
CARTERYou know, in some Scandinavian countries, they have required equality, and they're making some progress on this. It's a fairly recent development, but I think the best way to do it, if you'll excuse my being personal about it, is for people to read this book and see what's really extant and then say, what can we do about it? But when a man has a corporation, is -- say he's deeply religious. He's a Catholic or a Southern Baptist, and he knows that women can't be priests. Women can't be deacons. Women can't teach boys in the classroom. Women can't be chaplains in the military.
CARTERHe says, well, if women are inferior and as of God, why should I have to pay equal pay to a woman compared to a man? Well, if I'm inclined to abuse my wife, then that's at least a partial excuse because I can get away with it. And if he's a student on a campus and rapes a girl, he knows that he's going to do it with impunity because the university doesn't want sexual abuse to be reported. So it's kind of a selfish perpetuation of a fairly unknown problem.
REHMHave you talked directly with these Fortune 500 company leaders, the male leaders? Have you talked about this with university presidents? What kind of reactions do you get?
CARTERWell, I've written op-ed pieces. I haven't talked to leaders of corporations. I don't know most of them. But I teach -- I have taught for 32 years on the Emory University Campus in Atlanta. And they are making dramatic changes for the better. And they've gotten deeply involved with the students themselves and the student leadership organization and also with boys who observe or know about one of their fellow classmates perpetrating these crimes and encourage them to come forward and report it.
CARTERThis is not easy to do. And one of the bright lights is that the U.S. government, the Department of Education, which I established, by the way, when I was president, there's a law that was passed a number of years ago that is called Title IX. And it was designed originally to make sure that girls on the campus had an equal chance to participate in sports.
CARTERAnd they have now made a new ruling that this Title IX paragraphs apply to the abuse of women and girls. So they're now threatening to withhold U.S. Bonds for research and so forth to a university that doesn't take corrective action to minimize sexual abuse. And that's having a slow but increasing beneficial effect.
REHMThat's good to hear. President Carter, you are now 89 years old. You're not slowing down one bit.
CARTERWell, I have a lot to do, and I've been very lucky with the opportunities to do this work around the world, you know, with the Carter Center. And I've been blessed with good health so far, and I've got a wife that takes care of me. She's an expert nutritionist, and she makes sure that we get a lot of exercise every day and eat the right kind of foods. So, so far, I've been lucky.
REHMNow, I'd like to turn to what's happening in the world. I'm wondering about your reaction to the events unfolding in Ukraine and Crimea. What course do you think President Obama should attempt to use to steer through this? Will financial sanctions do it?
CARTERYou know, I think that the European leaders and President Obama have been unjustifiably criticized because of Crimea. There was no way, in my opinion, no matter what the opposition might have been with economic sanctions or even the threat of military reaction, that would have prevented Putin taking over Crimea.
CARTERIt was a foregone conclusion, and no one could've stopped it because Russians have always considered Crimea to be part of them. And the vast majority of the Crimean citizens wanted to be part of Russia. So that was kind of inevitable. But I think that has to be the limit of it. And I think that the western world and the United Nations and others, they should take very firm action to make sure that Putin doesn't go into eastern...
REHMWhat kind of action?
CARTERWell, let me just say what I did when I was faced with exactly the same problem. In Christmas weekend of 1979, I was president, and Premier Brezhnev ordered the Soviet troops into Afghanistan. And they were there. I couldn't do anything about it, but I issued a statement to Brezhnev, if you go any further, the United States will respond militarily, and we'll use all the weapons that we have at our disposal.
CARTERI withdrew my ambassador from the Soviet Union. I imposed a very strict economic embargo against them withholding all kinds of food even, and so forth, feed. And I also began to arm the Afghan freedom fighters so they could oppose the Russian troops that were there. And eventually these kind of practices prevailed, and later the Soviets were unable to consolidate their hold on Afghanistan. And when Gorbachev became the leader, they withdrew from Afghanistan.
REHMAre you suggesting that President Obama should go as far as arming those individuals in Crimea and Ukraine who do not wish to be part of Russia?
CARTERYes. Well, I would. You know, I think that this is something that certainly could be done with openness without any subterfuge. My actions, back in those days, were fairly secret. And we even used Russian weapons that we got from other countries to help there. But I think that now the European Union, the NATO countries, and hopefully the United Nations, can make an effort to declare that we would be providing weapons to strengthen the military capability of Ukraine.
CARTERWhat I predict will happen is that Putin will not take military action against eastern Ukraine. I watched his speech last week with great interest, and I monitored every word of it as it was interpreted. And he said, we are not going to take military action in eastern Ukraine.
REHMDo you believe him?
CARTERWell, it's hard to -- you know, we'll have to wait and see. But I think what he will do with maybe parallel effectiveness is he'll seduce the eastern Ukrainians who are Russian-speaking to look with favor over Russia by giving them special privileges of transportation and economic assistance and trade benefits and so forth to make them believe that they'll be better off in the future by looking eastward instead of looking to the western Europe.
CARTERI think he'll do that certainly in some parts of Ukraine that are already heavily oriented toward Russia. I think he'll try to convince them by benevolent actions that they're better off with Russia.
REHMSo do you believe President Obama is on the right track?
CARTERWell, I think so. He's working very carefully, I think, with the European allies in making sure that this is not a unilateral America in action. And I think that eventually the economic sanctions will have some effect in Russia. But I think we may have overestimated how much the existing economic sanctions might have an effect. But stronger sanctions in the future with trade embargos and so forth would go much further and would be much more effective.
REHMPresident Carter, during your years in office, you experienced a great deal of criticism, much as President Obama has had ever since he took office. Do you regard the complaints and the criticisms of President Obama as being fair and justified?
CARTERWell, I wouldn't want to make a blanket statement. There are a few cases where I've disagreed with some of his policies. I've been fairly mute about it, but...
CARTERWell, I'm not going to go into detail because, you know, I've been out of office now for 35 years, and he has his own analysis of what's going on, which I'm not privy to. I'm not going to criticize President Obama, but, for instance, I think now he's taken action -- for instance, I've been deeply concerned about the unwarranted intrusion into the privacy of Americas by the NSA and our intelligence agencies. And he has condoned this in the past.
CARTERThen he appointed a 40-member committee or something like that who recommended that this massive, I say, recording of every telephone call and every email message in America would be needed. I think they're not needed, and I noticed that he announced yesterday that at least some action would be taken. My hope is that he would be very bold and would take all of the recommendations of this commission he himself appointed because I think this is an unwarranted intrusion into the freedoms that we Americans have always enjoyed. So that's one example in which I've disagreed with him.
REHMAnd do you actually believe that your own phones have been tapped?
CARTERWell, I think in their so-called mega approach they have tapped every phone call in America and every email message in America. They claim that they don't read or listen to the actual words, but they store it up so that if there's any inclination in the future to do so, then they can go back and listen to the individual communications. But now they say that they just know that -- when the call was made, how long it lasted, who called whom and that sort of thing in every call in America.
CARTERI hope that will stop. And I don't know whether they've listened to mine or not. But when, as I said earlier on, I think, Meet the Press, when I've had a very sensitive or private message I want to send to another person, in particular a foreign leader, I handwrite it, and I put it in the mail and drop it in the mailbox. And so they get it, and nobody else is going to listen to it or record it.
REHMPresident Jimmy Carter, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." You have heard politicians, right from the first day that President Obama came into office, say that they were going to work to ensure he did not get a second term. He did get a second term. There are many people -- and I've heard from them -- who believe that some of the anger and hostility directed toward President Obama is the result of racism. Do you believe that that is part of that hostility?
CARTERWell, I'm not sure about that because I don't know what other people are saying. But when he ran, even for the Democratic primary election against Mrs. Clinton -- the Carter family has 22 voters in it. We have a very large family. But 22 of them are old enough to vote, and they're qualified to vote. And President Obama, then-Sen. Obama, got 100 percent of our votes. He got 22 votes. And obviously when he ran against John McCain, he got 22 votes. And when he ran against Mr. Romney, he got 22 votes in our family so far as I know. In fact, they've all said so.
CARTERSo we are very strong supporters of President Obama, not because he was African-American but because we felt that he would do a good job as president. So I'm not sure about that. But what I've seen in Georgia, for instance, in the last few years, is a very heavy dependence on the face issue to keep the Republicans in office. It's very subtle. You know, they talk about welfare dependence and people who don't deserve to get food stamps and how they're loafers and don't want to work and things of that kind.
CARTERAnd even in the last legislative session that just adjourned in Georgia, the question of having automobile tags with a confederate flag on them was brought obviously by the Republican leadership just to remind people that if you do have any inclinations to vote to be racially superior, vote for Republicans.
CARTERAnd that's been done ever since President Nixon ran for president in the South. The so-called race issue has been used. And I hope that will be corrected in the future. As a matter of fact, I have a personal interest in it because my grandson is running for governor against the incumbent Republican governor. And I believe if he comes in office, the race issue will be wiped away from the consciousness of Georgians in the political arena.
REHMBut do you think there has been an active effort to racially point to President Obama as not deserving of office because he is African-American?
CARTERWell, I don't doubt that that is a factor in the minds of many people, but I don't have any way to know how to quantify it. You know, I think a lot of people that are now emphasizing the issue of Obamacare, that doesn't have any racial overtones. And the people that say he's weak in dealing with Putin's going into Crimea, I'm not sure that that has racial overtones.
CARTERBut I don't think there's any doubt that there's still a remnant of discrimination that exists in our country and people that would probably not have voted for a Democrat anyway, the ones that would be likely to use the race issue against President Obama.
REHMVery briefly, how do you feel about the Affordable Care Act?
CARTERI was disappointed the way it was done and the complexity that it assumed. Instead of taking a leadership role from the White House and saying, this is what we think is best, they had five different congressional committees doing it and got, I think, the lowest common denominator which is the most complex system. I would really have favored just the expansion of Medicare to include all ages rather than just to deal with old people.
REHMFormer President Jimmy Carter, his new book is titled "A Call to Action." Short break, your calls when we come back.
REHMAnd welcome back. Time to open the phones for a very special guest, former President Jimmy Carter, who has a brand new book out. It's titled "A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence and Power." Let's go first to Mark in St. Louis, Mo. Hi, you're on the air. Go right ahead.
MARKHello. It's an honor to speak with you, Diane, and also former President Carter.
CARTERThank you, Mark.
REHMAnd I just stepped out of the classroom. I'm at St. Louis Community College, and the students are watching this now. So this is an excellent opportunity.
MARKFirst, I wanted to make a comment about what we're doing here in St. Louis, is I firmly agree with you, President Carter, that respect, equality and justice for women is fundamentally important for our civilization. And I respect and am glad that you brought this to everyone's attention. And one of the things that we do here is to teach and involve students in fair trade activities that support jobs and income for people around the world that are typically underprivileged or have limited access to opportunities.
MARKAnd then in St. Louis, we follow this up with activity and food desert regions, which we unfortunately have several of. And one of the new things that I've initiated is science, technology, engineering and math training for people that are underserved and have limited access to those type of very empowering careers in the training, and have targeted 7th graders with that. And I'm hoping -- I've just applied for a National Science Foundation grant to help to reach those...
REHMGood luck. Good luck.
MARKThank you. And so we're doing those activities because I firmly believe in global activities as well as local activities. So I wanted to share that with your audience.
MARKBut one of the questions that I had for you, former President Carter, is what other activities can I share with the students -- or actually you can share with the students in the classroom today that they can personally do to turn this whole paradigm around that we've unfortunately enmeshed ourselves into where the women and girls are discriminated against. And especially it's tragic about one in four getting raped on our college and university campuses, so...
REHMIndeed. All right. President Carter.
CARTERThank you, Mark. Well, first of all, Mark, I'm proud of what you all are doing in St. Louis. And the women who are being educated now for science and technology and engineering and mathematics is very low. Probably less than 20 percent of the total students in our university system are taking those courses. But, overall, women comprise about 57 percent, as a matter of fact, of graduates both at the Bachelor's level and at the PhD level.
CARTERBut one thing that can be done by every university is for you to take over the responsibility of making sure that an equivalent number of your graduates occupy the higher positions in your university as tenured professors and probably as in executive leadership. And I think what you're doing now in providing humanitarian aid to some of those areas of the world is very beneficial.
CARTERAnd when you go into those areas with your students or with your faculty members, you have to be very cautious about what activity you do. That is, don't go into an Islamic culture or an African culture and try to take the position that you're superior to them and that you come there to give them advice that they don't have themselves.
CARTERWe have found at the Carter Center that to do this is really counterproductive. We have to let the people themselves decide, do they want to have honor killings? Do they want to have genital cutting? Do they want to have child marriage? We can't change them from outside. So I'd say the first thing is correct your own mistakes and then, by example, let that be beneficial.
REHMThanks for your call, Mark. Here is an email from Bill in Dallas, Texas, and there were several like this. It says, "President Carter has, over the years, reached many of the same conclusions those of us have reached regarding numerous hypocrisies in the Christian religion and textual irregularities in the Bible. What keeps him in the fold of believers?" And I know that you have actually left one aspect of the Baptist convention...
REHM...moving to another, one that you were a member of for 70 years. And perhaps that can be part of your response.
CARTERWell, half the lessons I teach since I was 18 years old, which is 71 years ago, it's when I began -- half the lessons that I teach are from the Hebrew text, the Old Testament, and half of them from the New Testament. We move back and forth maybe every month or so. And I am pretty well familiar with all 36,000 or so verses in the Bible. And I know that you can selectively choose a particular verse maybe to suit your own inclinations that will make you feel superior to a black person or to a woman or to a Christian if you're a Jew or vice versa and so forth, or to members of other religions.
CARTERBut what I do when I get into a quandary about how these conflicts might be resolved is go to the words and actions of Jesus Christ. And I study those in some of the red-letter editions, which just says, this is what Jesus said and not what interpreters said later or in the Old Testament earlier. And that's where I get my guidance.
CARTERAnd I think there's no possible way to find a verse in the Bible where Jesus indicates any inferiority of women compared to men or any derogation of women's rights onto the auspices of God the creator. In fact, he exalted women's status much more than any predecessor had already ever done. And the way Jesus treated women is much better than we treat them now 2,000 years later. So that's the way I resolve the differences.
REHMSo your faith, your underlying faith has not been shaken...
REHM...and yet you left part of the Southern Baptist group.
CARTERI did. I was very active in the Southern Baptist Convention. I was a leader in the Southern Baptist Convention in many ways, dealing with men's issues particularly. And in the year 2000, the Southern Baptist Convention in their annual conference in Orlando, Fla. made some very dramatic changes. And I'll just go into one because it relates to women.
CARTERThey ordained that it had to be mandatory in a church for women to be inferior to men, that women could no longer serve as pastors, which they had for a number of years. They could not be a deacon in the church. They could not be a chaplain in the Army. And now they've gone to, I think, extremes in the application of this ruling that in their seminaries, which are their higher education universities to train Southern Baptist Convention future pastors, that a woman can't teach a classroom of students if there's a boy in the classroom. She can only teach girls.
CARTERAnd you can find a verse in the Bible that says women shouldn't teach men, but, you know, that, in my opinion, applies just for one single problem that existed, which now we can't understand, in a very tiny community or very tiny place. But Jesus Christ, who is a dominant figure obviously in the Christian faith, his words and his actions were impeccable in exalting the status of women in every way.
REHMBut you left the Southern Baptist Convention.
REHMHow difficult was that for you?
CARTERWell, it was not easy for me. It was very difficult. And we joined a Baptist church, a more moderate Baptist church on this issue and on the race issue as a matter of fact, at that time. And we have had women pastors in our church and men pastors. We have had women deacons. My wife is a deacon in our church.
CARTERWhen I wrote this book, the chairperson of our deacon's organization was a woman. So I would say that we treat them equally. And we have welcomed black members. We welcome -- we've had couples in our church where one person was African American and the other one was white. They're welcomed to our church, so we...
REHMWhat about gay couples?
CARTERWe never have discriminated or excluded anybody. In fact, there are a number of gay people who live in the little tiny town of Plains, and I have never heard one word of criticism or derogation of their status. In fact, they're some of the most popular and welcomed people in our community.
REHMWhen you say it was difficult to leave the Southern Baptist Convention, were you criticized? How did it make you feel?
CARTERWell, when I left the White House in 1980, there was about a 20-year period -- 1981 -- there was about a 20-year period between then and when the Southern Baptist Convention took these actions. And there was a move toward more conservative leadership within the convention. I had two major meetings at the Carter Center that I organized and I led.
CARTERAnd we brought in Baptist leaders, both conservative and more moderate. In fact, seven of the people that attended my meetings at the Carter Center either had been or would be presidents of the Southern Baptist Convention itself, the leader of all Southern Baptists. And we tried to resolve the, I'd say, the theological and philosophical differences between the two. It was not successful.
CARTERAnd now the Baptists have been partially divided. We have a more conservative Baptist church in Plains, the Plains Baptist Church. That's where I was baptized as a little boy, and that's where I first began to teach Sunday school. And I was also a deacon there. And my mother -- my father was before me.
CARTERAnd we have a very friendly and harmonious relationship now between the more moderate church in which Rosa and I worship, the Maranatha Baptist Church. And the other one is right down the street. The place is not very big. So we get along quite well with each other. But we understand that there's some differences in opinion. The other church doesn't permit women, for instance, to be deacons.
REHMAre you optimistic about Pope Francis?
CARTERI like him very much, and I'm very optimistic about him and what he's said and done so far. I knew Pope John Paul II and most of his predecessors and successors in my lifetime because I was president. And he visited me in the White House, and we had a very long and enjoyable conversation. When I brought up the issue of contraceptives, when I brought up the issue of women's rights, I found very quickly that Pope John Paul II was quite conservative on these issues. And I didn't pursue them in an uncomfortable way.
CARTERAnd I haven't met Pope Francis yet, except I knew about his wonderful work when he was a bishop -- an archbishop and cardinal in Argentina. He was a hero there for me as a human rights activist. But I've written him a letter -- a private letter that I typed and hand mailed when I was writing this book and just outlined some of the horrible abuses of women and girls around the world and asked him to join me if he would in correcting these abuses.
CARTERI didn't -- I told him that I knew that he couldn't change and automatically ordain that women be priests in the church. I ignored that part, and he gave me -- sent me a very beautiful letter back. And he said that, in his opinion, the role of women in the Catholic Church needed to be enhanced and expanded in the future, which is very encouraging.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Going to take a caller now from Cleveland, Ohio. Hi there, Ruth. You're on the air.
RUTHHi. First of all, I want to thank both of you for all of your great work. And my concern is how most men seem not to understand and even less to be concerned about the inequality of women even in this country. And how do you get to men? Even when women got to vote, it was men who decided that women can vote.
CARTERWell, you know, this is something that our country is lagging in accomplishing. And that is women having an equal role not only in the corporate world with jobs and pay and so forth, not only in the university system where they have very small leadership capabilities and very few of them are tenured professors, but also in other realms of life. One of the problems is that spousal abuse is very prevalent in this country and in other places as well where husbands abuse their wives.
CARTERAnd almost all the way over our country, as I report in one chapter in this book, this is an issue that needs to be addressed. In the past, what has been done is to remove the abused spouse and put her in a private place where she can be immune from her husband's abuse, and also get a court order against his approaching his wife to abuse her further. This has not worked because, first of all, it's not fair to an abused wife to take her away from her home. And if she has children, she has to either take her children with her into sanctuary or either leave them behind. That's not fair.
CARTERAnd, secondly, quite often, a more abusive husband, after a few weeks, he defies the court order and approaches his wife and abuses her again. In Massachusetts, though, as I report in the book, there's a remarkable new development that has been extremely effective. The husband is brought before a judge, and the judge doesn't punish the husband. He doesn't put the husband in jail, but he declares the husband to be a threat to his wife officially. And they put a GPS system on the husband's ankle that can't be removed. So the authorities always know where the husband is.
CARTERAnd this has been remarkably effective. And now more than 5,000 people, I understand from reports in the news media, have come to this place in Massachusetts to learn how they apply the same thing to their own community. And this has been so effective. So the husband's not only ordered by the judge not to approach their wives, but then, with the GPS system on the husband that he can't remove, then they know if he does violate this order. So it's been, as I said, two or three times very effective.
REHMWell, President Carter, it's been a great pleasure to talk with you. You set the example that if people follow your thoughts, your writings, I think it's going to be a better place for women. I hope so. That's all we can do...
CARTERI hope so, too.
REHM...is to lead by example and put forward the ideas that you've outlined in your book so well. Thank you so much.
CARTERI've enjoyed being with you again. Thank you.
REHMThank you. President Jimmy Carter, his new book is titled "A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence and Power." Thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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